Civil Unrest … Again

For the second time this year, we are experiencing some civil unrest in Bolivia (don’t worry mom, again it’s not in La Paz!). In January, about a week or two after I first arrived, there were some major protests in Cochabamba, surrounding the autonomy of that Department, and a few people died in the week-long confrontation. Now, three weeks before I leave this country, we are again experiencing major demonstrations. This time they are taking place in Sucre. And unfortunately, there have so far been three deaths.

Bolivia is generally a very peaceful country and the people are generally not aggressive, which is why, in January, the situation did not escalate beyond Cochabamba or beyond a week in length. This time, the demonstrations are for a different reason, but in the end you are dealing with people who are for the government and people who are against the government. The Morales government is the first government in the country’s history lead by an indigenous person. He (Evo Morales) has the support of about half the country – the cocaleros (coca-growers), the people of the altiplano and in general the indigenous population who are the poorest and most vulnerable. However, the people who are better-off, the business men of Santa Cruz for example, do not want anything to do with him or his government.

Why now and why in Sucre? We are in the midst of re-writing the constitution of Bolivia. And the Constitutional Assembly is meeting in Sucre. The demonstrators are against the new constitution, which gives more rights to indigenous people, among other things. This week, there was a vote in the Assembly to pass the draft version. The opposition didn’t show up and the vote was passed. So now, the opposition is calling the vote undemocratic. And on and on it goes.

Part of the debate is also about where the capital of the country should be. About 2 months ago there was a work stoppage in La Paz in support of keeping it here (where all the infrastructure exists) and not moving it to Sucre (which is located in one of the Departments whose majority is against the government). Again, this has been going on for months and in my mind, there is no debate. One city has all the buildings and infrastructure needed, the embassies are all here, and the international organizations. One city does not. I understand the desire of the people of Sucre to have the capital located there – a lot of jobs would be created and a lot of investment brought, but let’s be realistic!

Dec. 14th is the date of the final vote on the new constitution and I don’t expect things to calm down before then. Today there was a work stoppage in 6 of the 9 departments of the country – all those who do not, in general, support the Morales government. The next few weeks in Bolivia will be very interesting. Everyone is on eggshells, not knowing which way things will go. Will the protests stay in Sucre? Will they expand to other cities, even La Paz (where so far it is life as usual, but with a full tank of gas in the car and some extra food stored away)? Or will it die down as it did in Cochabamba, without any more deaths? I’m hoping for the former. That way I will get home for Christmas without any problems. Should road blockages and protests make their way to La Paz, the airport is likely to be one of the first targets. Fingers crossed.

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Posted in bolivia Submitted by Meg on Wed, 2007-11-28 22:09

Good Luck

Submitted by kevin@haggaret.com on Thu, 2007-11-29 12:21.

I'm with you Meg, I hope things calm down and you are able to get out without any trouble. If things look like they are going to escalate - I say get out early rather than getting stuck there...

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